friendships

talking too much

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I had been sitting in traffic on my daily commute to work; stewing.  A parent had cut-me-off as I exited the parking lot, dropping off my youngest son at his school.  I had then gotten stuck behind a slow driver who was texting and almost hit the crossing guard in the crosswalk.  When the third car went out-of- turn at a four-way stop I threw my hands up in the air; mumbling epithets under my breath, in my vehicle.

Then a song caught my ear and I turned it up.  Music can immediately change my mood, especially when I discover something new.  I’m grateful to Coin’s new song, “Talk Too Much” for doing that for me this past week.

I work through my issues by voicing them or typing them and in a household of males, the hubs bears the brunt of this burden.  I constantly chastise myself with why I can’t leave things unsaid.

My teens, surprisingly, are maturing and are now able to engage again in conversation with more than two words.  Recently we’ve had some great discussions about the things happening in their lives.

As a teen I felt disconnected with my parents so any tidbits of information from any of my three sons are welcome.  I know they do not tell me everything but I am grateful they choose to talk and willingly share something (without prodding).

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The spontaneous texts from my girlfriends to meet for walks, coffee, brunch and Friday night beverages were most welcome.  I’ve missed face time with fellow females and my schedule has finally opened up.

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Most times I walk my path alone in the morning, watching the fog rise from the ground in eerie patches of mist.  The silence and solitude allow me time to process and think through the various events occurring around me.  But the issues don’t resolve themselves until I talk them out.

My hubs is always the first filter, the one I trust implicitly, but females are vastly different than males.  He offers solutions and when I don’t take his advice he becomes frustrated.  I merely want him to “hear me;” to affirm the words and things that I observe are, in fact, real.  I want to talk through the scenarios, all umpteenth million of them, and consider the actions and reactions of those involved.

This is taxing for my dear hubs and so I am always grateful to the girlfriends who empathize; the ones who hear me.  The ones who don’t judge or critique.  These friends are rare and, over the years, I have discerned which ones I can feel affirmed with and, surprisingly, have gained a few new girlfriends along the way.

For a while I kept my thoughts and words for the hubs alone.  I soul-searched for the person I was/am after feeling bitter disappointment in various things.  This process allowed me to discover myself, both the good and bad, and in sorting and filtering I have been able to reconnect with my husband and family.

To engage.  To say no.  To let things go.

This has opened up space for me to discover things new.

To learn.  To explore. To grow.

My sons have watched me struggle and have heard me with my hubs.  For the boys to become decent men, they must have decent men in their lives to teach them these things.  To learn how to navigate through friends; to sort and filter if they affirm them.

Our two older sons have recently had to go through this and in observing my own process and discovery, they had a path to guide them.  Teenagers, today, are having to grow up faster and are exposed to more things due to technology.

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This morning I had to acknowledge this fact after discovering that my son’s close friend posted a suicide letter on a chat page and was admitted to a hospital.  At 12:59 AM my son received a text and a phone call from another close friend trying to help him.  But my son and the hubs had been watching a movie downstairs; his phone upstairs on his bed unanswered and unseen.

This is the second time this scenario has played out, with an entirely different person and situation, in three months.  But this one was close to home.

Growing up suicide letters were NOT the norm.  But social media has become the primary means of communication versus face-to-face interactions.   Talking has been replaced with typing and I wished my sons DID talk too much.

Instead, words are acronyms, memes and emoticons.  When the son saw the jumping off a cliff meme with the GKY (Go Kill Yourself) acronym, he assumed it was a joke.

This would be unheard of even a decade before, but our children have become desensitized to these thoughts and ideas.  When someone talks of cutting; kids roll their eyes.  Prescribing prescription drugs for anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have become common practice.  Everything is immediate and easy; just take a pill.

I stood at this son’s bedside, this morning, after receiving the call from my girlfriend of his friend’s suicidal ideation.   I quickly communicated with the other parents of my teen’s close circle.

This group of teens had just sat in our house on Friday evening talking.  This teen was the only one missing from their group and I am grateful that I have engaged with my boys’ lives; that I know who their friends are.  That I can open up my home to have them hang out on a Friday night so they can talk to one another, face-to-face or, most times, heads down texting phone to phone.

If ever I have appreciated the gift of hospitality and friendship, it is now.

We, moms, texted one another.

These kids, these days aren’t given coping skills.  When they get the real world, they are ill equipped to cope.  We protect them too much and don’t let them fail.  How do we guide them?

This pack of teens have one another.  They work things out together and that’s real life. 

One of the moms decided to open up her home, next week, and cook dinner because all conversations go better with food.  While our sons hang out, the parents will work through the issues to figure out how to navigate parenting today.  Our kids try to do the best they can.

Although I have a conflict with this dinner my son told me my presence is important to him.  So I must balance and make it work.  For him. 

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When my sons, this weekend, determined they wanted to bake cookies…I stopped what I was doing.  I rarely bake and all of my boys associate the holidays with their Mom baking cookies.

I took the time to directly look at my boys and frankly talk about what to do if your friend wants to commit suicide.  Thankfully, the teens in the situation did the right thing and called 911.  They were not critical nor judgmental.  They heard a teen’s cry for help and brought in the proper authorities and people to see it through.

We, parents, need to follow things through. 

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Being a parent isn’t always about giving our kids the best things, sheltering them or doing work for them so that they won’t have to worry.  They need to fail.

They need to learn how to navigate through stressful situations,with our guidance and support, to learn coping mechanisms to move forward.  And they need friends.

It is important for our kids to watch parents work through their conflicts to find resolution.  It is in talking too much with our friends, and spending face time that makes us human.  In walking alongside other people’s struggles, or vice versa, we learn the power of the ties that bind.

It’s easy to be our own islands, to try to work things out ourselves.  It is only in experiences that we can discern what a good friend is.  It’s not someone to gossip with; nor is it a competition of who has more things or titles.  It isn’t the one who brings in more money; nor is it the one who volunteers on PTA or booster boards.

We are not super Moms; we are all flawed.  We try to do the best we can.

I texted this friend’s mom, to make sure her son is okay.  The teens wanted to visit him.  His friends are ready to be there for him.

Parenting is a community and today, I am grateful to be a member of it.   Thanks to my fellow moms for being transparent and keeping it real.

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Family, friendships

changing seats

This is my favorite time of year…the changing of season from summer to fall.

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As a young girl fall meant back to school after a long summer.  I missed my friends and couldn’t wait to get back into the routine; the anticipation of all things new.  I couldn’t wait to learn; to get closer to being what it was I was going to be.  Life was a mystery and I wanted to unlock it.

With time that love of learning became lost.  It got lost in worrying about the future…in getting the grades, being involved in activities so colleges would take a second look.  It became competitive and the power of whom you know versus what you do sometimes got muddled.  It was all about the end-goal.

I grew up and got deposited into real life; not the sheltered one I lived in a small, rural coast community.  In the city I was a speck in the crowd and found myself getting swept up in the sea of people reaching higher, working harder, running faster.

Surprisingly, love found me in the most unlikely places and I have been fortunate to have our friendship grow into relationship; our shared history binding us over decades.   I had hoped to choose a safe, stable and very routine career.  I did not aspire to move far away.  I did not want a lot of change.

But to grow, to learn, change is what we must do.  When stuck at a plateau, we change up our routines to revive our metabolism, boredom and complacency.  Some refuse to budge, others choose the other extreme.  But the word, change, does not normally have a positive connotation.  I often hear that change is good but, really, what I’m feeling is the opposite.

Change. [Full Def.]  transitive verb.  1 a :  to make different in some particular  b :  to make radically different c :  to give a different position, course, or direction to  2 a :  to replace with another  b :  to make a shift from one to another c :  to exchange for an equivalent sum of money (as in smaller denominations or in a foreign currency)  d :  to undergo a modification of  e :  to put fresh clothes or covering on.  (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved September 20, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/change.

With this school year I was loathe to give up my SUV; the hubs and I switching up our school drop-off routines.  Car travel time, with my sons, is one of my favorite things.  Soon our eldest will be the one behind the wheel; driving himself and his brother to high school.  Because they begin earlier, the hubs navigates the craziness of their drop-off en route to work and I use his vehicle to drop-off our youngest.

I miss all of my sons being dropped off from my vehicle.

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Out-of-the-box thinking is squashed with years of history.  It has always been done this way and why change it?  For years, after high school, I chose to sever my old fashioned ideals to embrace the novel.  Plato, Einstein, Columbus, Watson & Crick, Wozniak & Jobs, …they chose to question the status quo and discovered new answers.  I had many questions and debated them often.  But never did I find my answers and I just stopped asking.

In this season of midlife, I begin to question many things.  For years I never questioned, always following the herd and wanting to fit the mold to be a good spouse, daughter, mother and friend.  I’ve failed many times at all of these things and it’s only with time and experience that I can finally find my way.  Severing my ties with my childhood ideals worked against my end-goals.  They used to be: a great career, titles, material things and many friends.  But quantity never makes up for quality and I recently was reminded of this over the weekend.

I mulled over these thoughts in the hubs’ truck.  While most people in my community lease cars and change them every few years to experience new, our household remains with our 1998 and 2002 vehicle models.  Now that my son drives my vehicle, I see it anew through his eyes.

Did I realize that my vehicle drives itself?  My son is finding things I had never noticed as I drove them to and fro.  The seat that folds down into a table.  A hidden compartment.  I’ve missed all of these things.  The youngest notes similar things in the hubs’ truck.

Did I know this button caused my speakers to change tone?  I’ve missed the accelerating power of the hubs’ truck;  its V8 engine and its deep-throated thrum.  Each morning my son and I lean forward each time I brake; forgetting the sensitivity of the pedal.  The music gets cranked up as I accelerate onto the freeway.

Slowly I have transitioned between the two cars; remembering the nuances of each and enjoying the amenities of both.  I’m hoping to thread through this time of life, as well.

Just as I struggle to let things go for my boys and allow them more independence; so I must also learn to let go of my defining title as the center of my sons’ world as a mother, to an independent adult and attentive spouse. 

I am redefining my roles, once again, and hope that I can retain the nuances of each and enjoy the amenities of both.  In order to grow I must accept and embrace change.  I’ve become complacent.

This past weekend as we celebrated my son’s sixteenth birthday I had been surprised by his request.  He asked that gifts NOT be opened publicly; knowing one of his friends’ family struggles financially.  Normally this son chooses not to celebrate his birthday with a party and prefers a dinner with just family.

I agreed to honor his request even though our family enjoys watching the reaction of the person opening gifts.  I had not anticipated that all of our family or my son’s eight friends could attend.

The hubs and I were just happy that this son chose to invite his friends to celebrate with him.

As I drove the hubs’ vehicle to work, in traffic, I remembered this same son wailing inconsolably in the infant carseat; the visiting bff trapped in the truck with us for five hours.  I gripped the steering wheel teary eyed.  I wouldn’t trade this truck in for a newer model.  Not ever.  The memories and history that is told in each fold, scratch and dent were reminders of the growth and changes that life has brought.

History is important.

On Sunday I stared at the cake before me while my sister-in-law counted guests.  It was not enough.  The silver lining in her words wasn’t lost on me…at least you won’t have leftovers.

My son relented to his friends’ requests to OPEN all of his gifts in front of everyone.  And so he did, as he has many birthdays before.

When the remaining Victoria’s Secret gift bag remained; the family and friends jeered and cheered for him to look at what was inside.  What kind of gag gift did these friends decide to gift to this boy on his sixteenth birthday?!   As pink tissue paper crinkled we all waited…

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I stood alongside and watched his friends’ faces before looking at my own son.  They had looks of anticipation and when I heard him gasp I finally looked at what he held in his hand.

This son has begged for us to purchase this electronic gaming item for the past two years and the hubs and I have refused to purchase it.  His friends, of their own accord, chose to pitch in money to give this to him.  They hoped I didn’t mind.

I gaped in shock, knowing this wasn’t something small, and I quickly snatched the camera to distract myself from crying right then and there.  The picture of nine teens placing their hands in a Victoria’s Secret bag, grinning from ear-to-ear, was priceless.

Later that same night, after a high school community jazz performance, our son sat quietly at the table with the hubs and I.  The middle son plopped himself into a chair and announced, “Dude.  My friends wouldn’t do that for me.  You’ve got some really good friends.” 

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In response, the older one shared how he had been shocked and embarrassed and didn’t know how to react when opening the present.   He had been happy that these friends merely were present.

It was the idea that these boys pooled their resources together and gave a thoughtful gift all on their own.  They couldn’t wait for him to open it and shared these sentiments on their online chatroom.

That mattered more to him than the gift. He had been humbled.

The very next night I found these parents in a high school stadium.  Did they realize what their boys had done?

A mom bluntly shared her sentiments.  She had refused to pay for the gift but if, these boys figured it out on their own, she’d purchase it with their money.  Each of the parents agreed that the money issue wasn’t a deterrent.  They all were encouraged that their sons worked collaboratively to get through obstacles and to selflessly give.

It’s the history these guys share with one another that’s important; their relationships solidifying year-after-year.  I hugged each of the parents and saw the joy mirrored in their eyes; even the dads.

I’d become complacent in my relationships with my fellow humans; believing the worst and losing sight of what is good.  I stayed within the status quo and just did.  I focused on my sons and my family; forgetting about the bigger picture.

But life constantly changes with transitions.  While sitting at a funeral mass for a dear friend’s mother; I heard family members share memories of their beloved.  It wasn’t in the things she gave them that kept this family together.  It was in the relationships she forged with her children and grandchildren, that mattered.  It impacted who they all had become.

Why search for new and better things when the best things in life are steeped in history?  Our evolution as a species, as a people, relies on our ability to navigate through transitions and obstacles and progress.   To pass these traits on to the next generation, I must embody them in myself.

This is the end-goal; to strive to be better.  To change.  To grow.

Being married to the hubs brought many opportunities to experience change.  He brought varying views into my life.  Travel.  Our sons.  He taught me the strength in doing things on my own.  With constant military deployments I was left to my own devices.  And I could weather life’s storms knowing that, even though he wasn’t always physically near, our ideals and values were the same; his love unwavering.

My unlikely partner, quite opposite from myself, has anchored me.  We continue to make history together; hopefully for many more decades.

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On the harvest moon I stood alongside fellow friends, experiencing mooncakes for the very first time and appreciating their endless hospitality.

Life never ceases to amaze me, there are so many new things to learn.  I am open now to new friendships and experiences; stepping out of my box and comfort zones.

I am remembering this gift of hospitality, handed down to me from generations past.  As my birthday came and went I finally realized the greatest birthday gifts I’ve received.  Get-togethers with various groups of friends; just to celebrate being together.  No presents; just presence.

The overbearing mama bear in me is learning to let go.

The eldest son is always the one who’s struggled to find a friend and it was only on his birthday that my worries for his future were needless.  He is capable of finding friends all on his own.  His changes, both physically and emotionally, are okay.  He doesn’t need to reinvent himself or try to conform.

I’m getting comfortable sitting in the passenger seat; ceding control and the wheel to him, to drive.

The waning moon is still bright.  I roll down the windows, hair flying, and enjoy the ride.

 

 

Family, joys of jazz, Marriage, Work

the big and little things

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This holiday season took me by surprise.  For some reason I was stuck in the month of October and ignored the Christmas displays in supermarkets.  In fact, I did not frequent brick and mortar establishments unless I absolutely had to.   It was only when I received notice that property taxes were due on December 10th, for both our home and business, that reality set in.

I wept when the checks came in the mail; grateful that one of our biggest business customers actually paid on time.  I don’t need an economics degree to see that we are not out-of-the-woods from a recession in a pre-election year; our vendors taking longer than the thirty days to pay.  Manufacturing is at the bottom of the totem pole to receive payment.   The months of  November and December are always our slowest and the mass marketing frenzy that marks the season was a reminder of how little our bank accounts had.

I lived day-by-day.  When people asked if I was ready for (any date in the future) my answer remained the same.  I was trying to get through today.  There were due dates, scheduled events and the ever present Christmas looming.  I had no gifts for my family and it is our turn to host Christmas eve.  The tree was not up.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday came and went and I crossed off one day of the calendar at a time.   Begrudgingly I asked the hubs to get down our Christmas decor after our kids continued to ask where they were.

Where is our tree? What about the gingerbread house?  Why aren’t you playing ‘White Christmas’ on the piano?  And when are you going to bake, Mom?  

Today I, unexpectedly, found myself in front of thirty plus teenage girls.  I am the person that handles student finances in the large booster organization I serve.  Inspired by one of the songs that define me, Sing Your Life by Morrissey, I had been dressed in jeggings and my Doc Marten boots thinking I would not cross paths with many people as I ran last minute errands.  I had only come to receive checks from a fellow parent and found myself standing before these teens listening to an instructor sharing his story.  He had lived in a garage and poverty and shared how he couldn’t afford to participate in a high school trip to Hawaii.  And so he got smart and saved for twelve months to make things different the following year; to follow his passion to perform.  The girls only saw his high-end import car parked at the curb, not the kid who struggled.   He and I stood before these girls to ask for funds to allow them to travel to an out-of-state national competition.

I remembered being on the other side.   My mother was prideful and would remind me to not mention that my father’s medical bills usurped all of our funds; that we relied on Medicaid.  I was eligible for free school lunches but she pinched pennies to hand me a weekly allowance of twenty dollars for gas and lunch.  I was sixteen, having obtained my license on my actual birthday, since my father, diagnosed with colon cancer, no longer could drive.    My high school was fifteen miles away; the closest “city” nine.  I drove my parents for doctors’ appointments and myself to school and extra-curriculars.   My parents never were in the stands during games or performances.  My father was dying and my mother remained in our home to care for him.  Music had been my salve.  In high school I had always longed for the Dr. Martens boots I currently wore.  The irony of my situation struck me; empathizing with these girls.

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As small business owners we realize the foundation can be pulled out from under us at any moment.  Many of our former customers have chosen to go overseas, to buy bulk for cheap.  Small businesses lose to cheap, subsidized imported goods.   But our selling point is always in our relationships with our customers.  We follow-through and deliver.  We provide quality and if there is a problem, we readily fix it.  We are custom all the way and the feedback we receive is that our vendors trust that we will do things right.  I will never have large bank accounts.   Every dime we earn is solely based on what we put out and it has to be quality every time.

In the past week I realized trust, transparency, follow-through and hospitality are the big things that count.  I don’t care if someone can offer me gifts or favors.  Money and material things mean little.  I want the friends who surround me to be the ones whom I can trust not to break confidences, who will tell me what is on their minds without worrying about offending and who will open their homes and hearts to my quirks and imperfections.  I have to trust that they will follow through and reciprocate.  This is HUGE for me.  People can appear to have it together, to have nice things, titles or look like a million bucks.  But it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters.    I am affirmed by those who are true to who they are.

My sons have surprised me this year.  Most Christmases I am the driving force of all merriment as I command my elves to happily comply with my decorating whims.  This year they were the ones urging me.

If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff. ~ Catherine M. Wallace

Eventually the hubs put up the tree.  Normally he is the bah humbug one in our household; the grinch who steals our Christmas joy.  This year he placed the boxes inside and over the course of the week, strung up garlands and lights with the help of our ever growing sons.  I found myself unwrapping a few ornaments and rearranging them on the tree.  The Advent wreath finally was placed on the coffee table and the poinsettias from the fundraiser arrived and were placed on the piano.  Slowly, but surely, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Tree.  Check.

Three years ago I had decided to never do gingerbread houses again.  Because I had been an only child in a quiet household I wanted to create my own traditions with my three sons for the holidays.  When they were toddlers I began purchasing gingerbread house kits imagining hours of Christmas creativity and cheer.  But I had been too worried about the mess, the arguments over the candies and frosting.  In 2012 the boys fought so ferociously that I put the camera down; feeling like a fraud.  I was attempting to capture a picture moment that was forced.  They didn’t want to build gingerbread houses and I didn’t want a mess.  I vowed I would never do this activity again.

So I was shocked at the boys’ insistence, this year, that I purchase a gingerbread kit.  After a week of constant reminders from my sons, the quote above came to mind.  I found myself purchasing a gingerbread village so each one could build their own house without argument.   Three years ago it had been the eldest who ruined our experience.  This year he was the one who kept championing it.  Gingerbread house.  Check.

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I had no words to type, no images to share.  I observed people saying one thing and doing the other.  Longtime friends parting with irreconcilable differences.  People who lacked transparency, broke confidences and lacked hospitality.  The thoughts were stuck circling in my mind and I struggled to find peace with all of it.  I heard my middle son struggle with a jazz riff of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ and it was only when he placed the saxophone in my hand, with my mouthpiece, that I realized the unifying theme of 2015.

Music breaks through all economic, social and cultural barriers.

He asked me to help him, to play alongside.  We sat together at the piano bench with our saxes; my chops sore.  Soon my fingers were running over the ivories and the bars of ‘White Christmas’ echoed in fits and starts within the walls of our home.  It took a few more practice runs for my hands to remember the keys from memory.  I am always amazed that I don’t need the sheet music, even after all of these years.  Eventually the songs of the season reached me; bringing me out of my reverie.  White Christmas.  Check.

The hubs and sons grabbed the baking items needed for their favorite cookies: snickerdoodles, peanut butter blossoms and chocolate chip.  Time was starting to get away from me with all of the preparations needed to be done before the 24th.  I laced up my sneakers and forced myself outdoors in the drizzly morning; knowing that my intake of calories would exceed what I would expend.  There was nothing on my schedule and I had everything I needed.  No more procrastination, baking day had arrived.  As the whir of the mixer and smells from the oven filled our home, the younger sons emerged from the den to assist with  unwrapping Hersheys’ kisses.  Some were for cookies, others for their own consumption.

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It was then that I remembered my song and I quickly found it on YouTube as I waited for the timer to chime for my next batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Others sang your life
but now is your chance to shine
and have the pleasure of
saying what you mean
have the pleasure of
meaning what you sing
oh, make no mistake, my friend
all of this will end
so sing it now
all the things you love
all the things you loathe
oh sing your life ~ Morrissey.

I cranked up the volume on my eldest son’s laptop.   He emerged from the den with his portable speaker for better sound quality.  The middle son listened as I sang the words loud and clear.  I began to type furiously on the laptop, the thoughts from the last few weeks finally being able to be put into words.  The youngest grabbed milk from the fridge to happily eat the cookies straight from the oven as I tapped my booted foot to the beat.  Cookie baking.  Check.

Don’t leave it all unsaid
somewhere in the wasteland of your head
and make no mistake, my friend
your pointless life will end
but before you go
can you look at the truth?
You have a lovely singing voice
a lovely singing voice
and all of those
who sing on key
they stole the notion
from you and me so sing your life ~ Morrissey
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The hubs had been frantically cleaning our pool after we received the text from my side of the family that they were joining us for Christmas eve.  Traditionally my hubs’ family celebrates on the 24th; the location alternating between his sister and our home.  Then the phone call came from the estranged niece and after communicating our desire to have her join us; the guest count increased by ten.   The hubs worried we wouldn’t have enough food until he looked at our very full refrigerator.
My home is currently in a state of disaster after two days of consecutive gingerbread making and cookie baking. I don’t require gifts, the picture perfect house and the fancy Food Network worthy recipes to ooh and awe.  All that I long for, this Christmas, is for all of my family to unite under the roof of my loud and messy home.  This may be the last Christmas with a grandfather diagnosed with terminal cancer.  There are other days to carry on family feuds.  I tell the niece that Christmas is about the kids, the babies; and this year three will be in our home under 18 months old.
It’s because of a baby that we celebrate this season in the first place.
Like the stable that birthed the newborn that is the reason for this season, my light will be on and my doors always open.  I merrily sing the words to my song, loud and clear, about all the things I loathe and love.   I needed the push from my sons and hubs, their words heard.  I had to follow-through with these little requests and things that add up to something bigger.  I want them to share the big stuff when they are big.  To remember what’s important.
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Have a musically merry Christmas and a rockin’ New Year.  Sing the big and little things of your life.
Family, Marriage

walk your talk

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I was not in the frame of mind to be festive.   My jaw had been clenched as I made the commute to the house where my extended family has always celebrated birthdays and holidays; since its purchase in 1981 by my late cousin.   I sat in heavy traffic, for two consecutive days, to attend events leading up to a wedding this past weekend.

I tried to push the negativity out of my mind as various commitments pulled me in opposite directions.  I mulled over bits and pieces of information; sorting and filtering through my observations to the truths that lay somewhere in-between.  What I was discovering was not what I had wanted to find.  For once I was grateful for the stopped traffic; buying time to think my thoughts in the privacy of my vehicle alone.   The F words come to mind.

I think of those who govern by Favors versus Fairness.  When Fear of being Found-out drives others to Follow.  It always comes with bitter disappointment when you discover someone is a Fraud versus a Friend.   This has been happening to me a lot lately and it is Frustrating.

When you choose to walk-your-talk and do what you say, and say what you mean; you realize how many others do not live by those same rules.

I can say what I mean but others don’t want to hear the words.  I can do the things I say I will do; but can’t make others do what they say they’ll do.  When you choose what is right; not what is easy, you find that it gets a bit lonely.   I begin to lose Faith in my fellow human beings.  It gets really lonely finding my way alone.

Whenever I question what I do and the reasons why I serve, I repeat the following.  Serve the program, not the people.  Program, not people.  I find myself repeating this phrase often as I watch politics and power positioning occur in various organizations in which I serve.  I must find my way to navigate through these waters; to remember my own moral compass and to know my boundaries.  I am a people person and naturally want everyone to communicate their thoughts and to receive others’ feedback. But this doesn’t really happen.  I keep waiting to be inspired, for someone to lead.

I sat at the empty reception table for seven; four of the members headed towards a field competition almost two hours away, two others in line at the bar, and myself.  I didn’t mind the solitude; my dear cousin and her new husband only a few feet away.  I caught her glance at the empty table in the midst of the festivities and I gave her a reassuring smile.  I am most comfortable being by myself; the only child.  I was surrounded by my extended family as I gazed up at the lanterns and various lights strewn across my cousin’s backyard; an idyllic setting for a garden wedding.  In the 34 years this home has been in our family, celebrating a wedding was a first.   It shouldn’t have caught me off-guard as my younger male cousins began their toasts to the bride; each sharing their sentiments of the significance of the location and how we all claim this as our family home.

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My mind brought me back to the first time my older cousin had excitedly shown my parents and I his purchase.  He was newly married and, as a young girl, I only remembered tall weeds obscuring the dilapidated barn and the creaky Victorian style home.  He claimed it had good “bones” and soon he and his wife moved in and started their young family.  There were countless birthday parties and holidays for my cousins and I, and as the bride’s brother shared his toast I saw the tears in the bride’s eyes; the same tears forming in my own.  We had all grown up here.

Every Christmas day I have had Christmas dinner here; save for the year of 1998 when the hubs and I traveled from Virginia Beach in a military cross-country move to return to our home state.  We had not arrived in time for Christmas.  It has been the only time I’ve missed.  The last time our entire family came together at this location was at this cousin’s unexpected funeral in 2010.   He loved to throw parties and his hospitality is the legacy he has passed down through the rest of us.  He was Mr. Hospitality.

It was laughable that my cousin’s widow and I were the hostesses for the bride’s garden wedding.   What does one do as a wedding hostess?  I haven’t felt hospitable in a long time so I don’t exactly make a good poster child for Mrs. Hospitality.

We found ourselves moving tables, hiding linens, arranging floral arrangements, giving directions on cell phones and answering questions the wedding event planner had about the location.  We grinned at guests in 103 degree heat, with no air conditioning.  The luxurious port-a-potties had air conditioning that the Victorian home did not.  When the cousin, closest in age to me, shared his Facebook post of a selfie in the port-a-pottie to enjoy fifteen minutes of air conditioning I had to laugh.   The bride paid attention to details and as the toasts were said, I contemplated the touches most people would take for granted such as the two luxurious air conditioned portable bathrooms.  The bride’s creativity is always Pinterest board worthy and those touches were found everywhere.

Sitting alone under the twinkling lights, surrounded by family and wedding guests, reminded me that I don’t need to perform acts of service to find worth or prove that I belong here.  The love between the bride and groom was obvious.  I was happy the groom was officially a part of our family.  Finally.  There are no sides.  We all belong here.  On Facebook various family and guests took picture upon picture.  I am in none of them and that is okay.  I don’t need to be seen and I’m working on the part about not having to be heard.  I need to just do, for the sake of doing; not for acknowledgment, favors or friends.  I only need to serve the one not of this world.

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I serve for the F’s that matter to me.  Fairness.  Freedom.  Family.  Friends. 

I push foward through the dramas, botched communications and misunderstood intentions.   It is hard to stand up and buck the tide, to call-out what is wrong and what is right.  To live by example and forge my own way.  Waiting for someone else to motivate, inspire or lead is a cop-out and an excuse.  My vision is focusing and my thoughts are centering; words forming.  I know where I am from and what I stand for.  With my hair flying behind me I stride forward,  leaving others in my wake.  I hope they all figure it out and sort through the mess and drama.   I’m walking my walk and not looking back.

friendships

exile and empty gauntlets

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It’s in the month of June when I try to go off-the-radar into self-imposed exile.

It’s in the month of August that I look back and think of all the things and projects I had hoped, in the summer downtime, that I would get done.   Decluttering office files into banker boxes at work and home, organizing kids’ drawers into piles to give away.  Staring at office space filled with junk to be transformed into workable space. Extra pounds upon my waistline from too many family poolside BBQs and campfire s’mores.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating until I reached the critical point where I had to do something; panic mode in full swing.

It can wait until later I told myself, citing that I wanted to spend quality time relaxing during the summer months; Kindle opened in-hand.

I’ll clean house next week so that I spent “quality time” with my sons; avoiding my four walls and being outdoors so I didn’t feel the guilt by looking at them.

Why cook? I questioned the hubs as I dragged him to float in the pool after long, hot days of manufacturing bolts at work.

I walked in early mornings; convincing myself that I am maintaining.   The hubs made me step on our new scale to recalibrate it.  I rarely step on scales.  But do weigh scales lie?

The bills and files piled high upon the desks; in view, to remind me to pay them.  Calgon take me away.

My bad mood permeated my Sunday; exacerbated by my guilt of procrastination.  My summer exile had me disengage from everything.  This has been a recent development after people began to disappoint and life became too absorbed doing things for others that didn’t fill my cup.  Usually an optimist seeing my cup as half-full, I began to only feel the emptiness.   And so I went into exile in my tiny bubble.  I sat still allowing myself the time to absorb the bitter pill; taking stock of the things in my life that I needed to re-evaluate.   To forgive.  To let things go.  The hubs, flummoxed by my dour face, finally asked what was wrong with me; to which I replied, I think I don’t like people.   A strong statement from my extrovert self.

I grabbed the cup and swallowed with lots of water; trying to flush away the bitterness in my mouth.  I float away all thoughts, on top of it, in eves in the pool; continuing to empty my cup and drink from the well that never satisfies.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet.  The random but timely email from my childhood girlfriend, a teacher,  says it exactly. 

I’m going back to the dark side…the Ultra Responsible Adult life…gotta run!!

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Reality check.  It’s time to return, to do something about it.  The hubs’ words stung but always ring true.  I appreciated his transparency and concern.  The priest sermoned about eating and drinking from the cup, to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  Amidst the applause of the congregation my mind rallied, I’m really working on it Lord, trust me…I’m trying.  Right now I’m not feeling it.

I’ve always imagined that clarity comes in beautiful, quiet settings.  But I have experienced many of those things, this summer, and its soothing balms temporarily worked until my return to the every day.  I used music and books to escape the thoughts that churned in my mind; holding me captive.  I physically moved through each morning and night; the routines and ritual comfortable and mundane.   And I’ve revisited the past full circle; returning to the present with childhood and current friends and family alongside.   I must change my mindset.  To remember and believe that people are GOOD.  I am my own worst enemy.

After a year of laying low I am ready to return to the land of the living; to expect good in others instead of questioning motives.   The serene setting happened to be a noisy and packed high school MPR.  Parents worked alongside, fitting uniforms on 239 members of my son’s high school marching band.  After years of parent involvement in my sons’ elementary school I had no intention of serving in other organizations that usurped my time away from our business and family.   I worked alongside the mom who dragged me into the fray; the extra hands needed in an organization so large.  Hours were spent snapping buttons and fitting lengths and when the water was offered, I drank it and felt refreshed.

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I’ve always known that it is in service where my true love lies; my only way to contribute is with time.  It was only when my vision was clouded with thoughts of impressing others or self-affirmation; selfish things, that prevented me from seeing the reasons to why I served.  It used to be that I wanted to be away from the walls of my home, to seek others’ approval; unhappy in transitioning in life on many levels.  My summer of exile only delayed the inevitable.  I’ve realized that I must reside amongst people.  To interact with them.  To immerse myself and navigate amongst them.

It is in relationships that life is lived. 

In twenty-six years of business we know our customers and understand their custom and unique needs.  It is why they remain loyal as our outreach extends beyond our four walls to places beyond where we could have ever imagined.  In a world where price drives markets, customer loyalty is built with relationships.  And so it goes with friendships.  In a world where acquaintances may come and go, transparency and authenticity strengthens the ties that bind.  History is the random variable that can sometimes cloud perspective.  Just because you’ve known someone for a long time doesn’t mean that person is a good friend; the one that continually sips from your cup but doesn’t pour anything back into it.

This month I was forced out of exile; to find my way amongst people once again.

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The one-year old baby was proof of the passage of time.  The last time I had seen my two childhood girlfriends, whom I’ve known since aged nine and eleven, together was at the latter one’s baby shower.  She connected me to the present; the endless hours listening to music and playing on piano keyboards to one of our fave bands at the time, Depeche Mode.  She is the one who remains friends with those from the past; the keeper of knowledge via Facebook.  It is with this same band that, years later, the bff and I were separated in a throng of people and through sheer luck found one another.  And I later attended their concert with the girlfriend from age nine, the bff and the girlfriend I’ve known since aged four.  History.  It is overwhelming.  I am thankful these women have, over the decades, remained and continue to walk milestones with me.

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The traveling girlfriend returned and spontaneously was in my area; months of words unspoken exchanged from our lips.  I sat with my “queens” watching Magic Mike XXL; the hoots of laughter shared in a crowded theater, full.    The early morning walks continue to maintain as better food choices and portion sizes are assessed before annual check-ups.  I rediscover the treadmill purchased over Christmas and decided to step on the scale only on Mondays.

The hubs and I fight for counter space as we plan meals for teens and the ten-year old; providing healthy, non-processed foods to fill their tummies.  Organization returns as the piles of bills are alphabetized and ready to be filed; the next thing on my to-do list.  The empty office space now looms with possibilities.  The stuffed closets and drawers filled garbage bags to donate to our booster organization; raising money for our high school band program.  My girlfriend concocts homemade cocktails and I sit by the backyard fire.

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The drinks keep coming, brimming full.  I take my portion and fill my cup.

friendships, School, Work

lines in the sand

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I have returned to the question that blew up in my face at this time last year; the reasons why I serve.  The past twelve months have given me the opportunity to ponder this and really assess what is important.   I stared at my boys, upon my childhood beach, and found myself sifting the grains of sand through my fingers.  My mother-in-law had been on my mind and her favorite daytime soap opera’s song entered my head,  “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives.”   I chuckled out loud and drew a line in the sand.

I have finally defined my boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.  They are not according to what others expect or want to hear.  In stepping away from busy-work I mentally sifted through the layers that have defined me.  Some were superficial; others buried deep down amidst responsibilities.  I re-organized and shifted my purpose; opened closet doors with skeletons and put them to rest.   My lines are no longer blurry.  Then the tide came and partially washed away my line.

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I’ve talked of staying within the four lines that create my safety box; my comfort zone.  I’ve always assumed my life would be on the straight and narrow; that I would reach my destination in the most efficient way possible.  But those lines are never straight; they go widely off-course, and in the days of my life most times they are wavy and off-center.  But I must always have a baseline; the foundation that I must find my way to return to.  I seek to find my center; the core of my beliefs.  The world pulls me in opposite directions, like magnets, and I must always realign my thoughts and actions to what I find acceptable.  

I say what I mean and mean what I say.

That used to not be true in recent times.  I filtered my words to keep the peace.  But when I am not at peace within; why would I try to pretend to make things right for anyone else?  At the end of the days of my life, at the pearly gates, I am accountable for myself, “…to make straight the path to the Lord.” John 1:23.  I cannot lead by example if I cannot stand for what I believe in.

A good leader is not defined by strengths; but in intimately knowing weaknesses.

I sit in the cold conference room finally saying the words I’ve needed to say.  I no longer serve a certain population because I have lost respect for the leaders who represent it.  The ones who say what they want and do not follow through.  The ones who smile to your face and turn their back behind closed doors.  Whether it is the workplace, a civil/volunteer organization or a social group I’ve realized the reasons why I serve aren’t solely for the mission statement.

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In recent weeks it has dawned clear how I operate and why.  It matters; the people I serve with and serve for.  The leader who is fair and balanced; not showing favoritism.  The people who are giving and hospitable; without conditions.  The workers who do what needs to be done, without excess fanfare or introduction.   Just as with our  business, our customers choose to stay with us because they have a relationship with us.  Most companies’ goals are to produce quality products and customer service.  But when the problems arise, and they always do, our company works with our vendors to make things right.   Those who speak their mind, sometimes loudly, but speak their truth still garner my respect.  I am a person that will own up to my mistakes.  Those who smile and create drama and never seek resolution do not deserve respect.  The ones who think they are doing you a favor by keeping quiet to keep the peace and pretend nothing is wrong.  They are in a class all of their own.

My line is drawn and remains steadfast; one I now choose not to step over, even when blurred.

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I serve with people and organizations who are fair; who do great things for others because they want to.  It is not for their children or hidden agendas.  They understand my need for transparency and when problems arise, they talk them through.  They stand true to who they are and aim for authenticity; even if we choose not to agree.   Those who stop questioning and just do what needs to be done.   It is what I seek in all my endeavors, both professional and personal.  I am my father’s daughter and it is my strength.  It is the details that are my weaknesses.  My love language is in service.  I am a work in continual process; pushing my line out towards infinity.  Infinitely expanding and growing…

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Family

tea parties

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The signs of new growth and spring reveal themselves all around me.  The verdant green hills with dew as I walk in the morning, the warming of the air in the afternoon and the chirps of bird chatter heard through my window at dusk.  I find myself emerging from my self-imposed exile into one of the busiest party months of our calendar year.  Each weekend is full and, although no one within our household has a birthday this month, our extended circle of family and friends most certainly do.  The boys couldn’t believe their grand aunt Linda was a youthful ninety-two.

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Five of our dear (not acquaintances) friends share a birthday on the 21st alone!  Spring definitely brings in new life LOL!!!

wpid-img_20150317_094307.jpgI often ponder the things that propel me forward; items that motivate me such as music.   I play the instrumental version of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” the Nile Rodgers’ guitar riffs establishing my daily groove.  But recently I discovered an inner source of inspiration from something unexpected; the text from my girlfriend’s daughter’s birthday table setting reminded me.

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Just yesterday I walked through the department store where we had registered for the above items almost two decades before.  While the hubs had lingered by the knives and practical pots and pans, I gazed longingly at the china set above; particularly the tea cups.  Listed upon the paperwork was the check box for china and I hadn’t imagined any of our guests purchasing these items for us.  The soon-to-be hubs had impatiently called to me; waiting to use the scanner on his beloved pots.  I hastily scanned the impractical items; knowing this was a luxury we couldn’t well afford.  It was because of the tea cup.

And over the years, in the various far away places the hubs traveled; he brought home tea sets.  From Japan, India, Korea.  I was happy to lend my set for a teen tea party of Cinderellas.  The sets within my hutch are used primarily for holidays and special occasions.  My mother-in-law watched as we loaded these items in my girlfriend’s car.  Are you giving away your china? she asked, aghast.

Last year I had found myself explaining why we owned these dishes and sets to my sons.  A girlfriend had begun to declutter her life and inquired if I’d give her tea cups and saucers a home.  They were beautiful, unique sets of ornate Victorian flowers and gilded rims and so I offered my hutch for safe-keeping; in the event that she would change her mind about giving them away.   To my hubs’ chagrin, I used them for the first month almost every day; my sons secretly enjoying the fancy cups and sticking their pinkies out.  What’s the big deal with the tea cups, Mom?

No immediate answer had come to mind.  Over the months I slowly put the tea cups away and dusted my china hutch; much like I did with my own mother’s cabinet as a child.  My weekly chore was to keep the glass doors to my mother’s china cabinet clean.  She’d happily gaze at her china; the stuff she rarely ever used.  Upon her death there were very few things I took from my childhood home as I went about the motions of putting it up for sale.  It was only the china set inside her cabinet, that was her most prized possession.  As a young girl I had longed to use her tea cups.  I’d never gotten to use them.

It is one of my boys’ favorite table settings; their Lola’s gold- rimmed china.  My extended family remember it well and, at Christmastime when I host, the memories come flooding back of my mother’s obsession with the china she never used.  Unlike my mother I choose to use the items in my china cabinet whenever I can.  For bookclub.  For dinners with friends.  For birthday parties.  They are well-used.  As our extended family grows larger I no longer have enough dishes to accommodate everyone.  The hubby proclaimed a moratorium on any new item of china entering our home.  We live in earthquake country.  They will be the first to go.

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For Lent I chose to give up eating out.

After Sunday services our weekly ritual is to have Sunday brunch.  I abstained while my sons grabbed doughnuts and returned home with an idea in mind. Let’s have a tea party! I exclaimed to the hubs.  I am grateful my husband is tolerant of my random ideas to “play house” with me.  I cheerfully set my green table with our every day stoneware; chosen at the same time as our china set, and asked the boys if they would like to be invited.  Accustomed to my bursts of craziness the boys only acquiesced upon smelling the aromas of the chocolate chip scones the hubs made for our tea party.  Soon our family of five, dressed in our church clothes, sat down for our Irish breakfast tea with scones.  They opted for coffee.

My choice to not eat out is more than the simple words imply.  My lack of discipline and self-motivation is its weakest when having to deal with food.  After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan the hubs and I began to delve deeper into where our food originates from.  We struggled with the ideals of organic and sustainable farm practices versus affordable and diverse food choices.  Each evening after work I am uninspired by the contents, within my fridge, to create chef worthy dinners for our family of five.  It is cheaper and faster to conveniently purchase fast food or pre-made dinners.  Two weekends ago when we chose to celebrate our youngest’s accomplishment of completing his 26.2 mile progressive marathon at Dodger’s Stadium; we asked him where he would like to celebrate.  He had first declined going out to eat; knowing my Lenten resolution to not eat out.  But for his special day I cheated and he surprised all of us with the place he most absolutely, was dying to try.

Taco Bell.

We thought he was joking.  He had heard the hubs and I regale tales to our high schooler about driving off-campus for lunch.  At aged sixteen my girlfriends would jump into my Toyota Tercel and we would drive, off-campus,  for 69 cent tacos at this establishment.  The hubs has similar memories but as adults, we have never taken our family of five here.  Eventually we were able to talk our son out of this choice; to head to a sit-down establishment.  But of all places to choose in a metropolitan city with diverse restaurant options; this was his first choice.  Our boys have not been brought up with the food groups of: McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King or Taco Bell.  Occasionally the youngest and I grab a chocolate frosty from Carl’s Jr. as we head back to work after pick-up on his early minimum day.

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By choosing to not eat out I am forced to create slow, home-cooked meals.  I tend to be an organizer, the coordinator of our schedules, events and tasks but I choose a laissez faire attitude with regards to meals.  It takes organization to create dinners on a tight schedule as I drive sons to and fro to various activities most weeknights.  I know that in order to get optimal health results the real choice to be made is in monitoring what you eat.  Portion control.  Planned meals.  The things where I lack self-discipline and hunger gets the best of me. Every.  Single.  Time.

It is difficult to not sample everything when I am in attendance at various celebrations.  Both sides of our families host large gatherings with a plethora of food.  When times got lean the hubs clamped down on my tendencies to host get-togethers and parties.  Like my family hosts before me: my mother, my cousin, my in-laws, I enjoyed bringing out my best things to share.  But hosting created a lot of work and stress.  The cleaning, the decorating, the purchasing, the hostessing and then the cleaning and putting away.  Was it worth it?    Although we valued the time with others it became work when it became expected that we were to host.  For holidays.  For parties.  For everything.

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But the inner party planner is being awakened once again.  The hubs knows that my tea sets are coming out; enjoying time with others and letting go of the notion of expecting the same in return.  The hubs now sees the value in the giving; his own mother creating elaborate dinners unselfishly, for the love and joy of sharing it.  It was in sharing my tea cups that brought me the realization that the people gathered before us did not care about the dust bunnies in the corner, the cracked tile or the elaborate china.

It is in connecting with others that we find meaning; whether it be good or bad.  It is how we grow and renew.

I steep the Irish breakfast tea and contemplate this idea in my mind.  It is our family tradition, this celebrating of events within our short life spans.  I want my children to remember the tea cups, the parties, the friends and family who grace the stoop of our imperfect home and our messy lives.  Those who remain through the years are the keepers; for better and for worse.

I’ll drink to that.  Happy Birthday to all my beloved friends and family members. You know who you are.

Family, friendships

open chapters

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Books.  They changed my life.

“…people who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) were better able to detect another’s emotions…”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

They are seemingly innocuous; the opaque, off-white, inked parchment bound in spines.   As a young girl I fingered the pages; reverently turning them as I tried to decipher the meaning of the phrases.  From the safety of my twin bed I would be transported to places beyond; a welcome escape from the dull every day of my solitary world.  My most  cherished and well-worn book in my collection?  A used dictionary from a thrift shop that I had begged my mother to purchase at age ten.   I coveted a thesaurus; something I would not own until my first year in college.

As my mother shopped in the grocery store, next door, I sat in the thrift shop; absorbing the words in the short hour allocated to purchasing food staples.  To my mother books were a waste of time; my energy better utilized in cleaning house and learning how to sew and cook.  Books would get me nowhere.

Recently I caught myself reciting this phrase to my children, inserting computer gaming instead of books.   It is easy to place the blame on the plastic encased whir of electrical circuitry; the imagery on the monitors.  Instead of socializing with their peers my sons sit in chairs talking on headsets to friends from borders beyond.  There is no face-to-face time unless they decide to Skype.  When the procrastination sets in, it is the computer’s fault for distracting them.  Books or television no longer are the primary ways to escape reality.

It’s easy to externalize my fears onto an object; harder to acknowledge that they are my very own; that I have fault in propagating them.

I worry that my sons won’t know how to successfully navigate the social world; to practice the art of communication.  They are solitary figures lit up by high res screens.  They don’t need to know how to read body cues; to learn reciprocity or empathy.  Instead, they are  buffered by bandwidths and short typewritten acronyms like AFK (away from keyboard).  BRB (be right back).  TY, YW & GG (thank you, your welcome and good game).  The nuances of spoken language and face-to-face time are being lost in this generation.   How can I create change, to fix my complacency?

I’ve immersed myself in literature: parenting, education and self-help books.  I read memoirs and blogs; gleaning tidbits on what to expect; reading literary fiction in-between to take a mental break.  But am I not, too, lost in solitary confinement not practicing what I preach?  Information means nothing if you do not put it into practice.  One of the best indicators of success in our children, according to The Smartest Kids in the World author Amanda Ripley; is to model reading for them.  Avid readers become critical thinkers.  But does this make them better communicators?

This is where the books come in.

I remember when they re-entered my life after a long hiatus.  I was busy parenting young sons; recovering from a surgery seven years before.  My girlfriend invited me to join a newly founded book club to which I immediately refused.  I had no time for the wasteful books; who has time to read?  She handed me the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray Love, anway; ignoring my remarks.  A month later I found myself amongst my neighbors, women I barely knew from school.  It was only the second meeting of their discussion group and I pondered how to politely extricate myself.  I was not fond of this book, a bestseller, which would become a movie. 

Three  years later as the movers packed my home in boxes for the umpteenth time; the tears coursed down my cheeks.  The monthly babysitting fee to allow myself three hours of book discussion was worth its weight in gold.   At my farewell I not only discovered my long lost love of books.  I had been accustomed to the moving routine; transitioning from one place to another and not becoming attached.  The lesson I learned from these women was life altering.  Life is too short to not propagate roots; to build foundations of fellowship.

I was reminded of this last evening.

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It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life; to blame externals.   To find excuses.  I can find fault in others to protect my walls and keep people at bay.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.  I become lost in works, not spoken words.   Relationships do not just happen by sitting in front of a computer, reading a book or finding busy work to keep us distracted and occupied.  Externals cannot prove our self-worth.  It is in people, in social interactions, in direct conversations that form the ties that bind.   Sometimes it’s not easy; nor convenient.  We must be purposeful in their upkeep.

The best of your friends are those who love you when you are not your best.

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“If being transparent strengthens the social ties that make life worth living, and enables others to forgive our shortcomings, why not do it more often?”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

In discovering the joys of reading I have also found the joys in relationship.  What began as a monthly break from the minutiae of parenting has become a lifeline.  I gained more than I had ever bargained for.   Our current reading discussion group, on the pretense of discussing literature, have formed a family.  I, the only child, have gained nine other sisters and all that that entails; a bit overwhelming for this only child of none.

But the true gift was probably something none of these women would’ve expected.  I thought of their plotting and scheming in multitudes of texts, cooking excursions and behind-the-scenes coordination.   The celebration of my birth wasn’t the real fruit of their labors.  It was in the working together; in their inside jokes that I found value.    It was their joint journeys that made me most happy, overcoming obstacles and thorny spines of their best laid plans.  Life isn’t a bed of roses.   The lack of running water, unexpected company and urgent care visits are the realities in this life.  What mattered the most was the love and care these girls took to get there.   It is this sentiment that is indelibly etched in my mind.  It was worth it.

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In modeling our love of reading to our sons; we now have avid readers.  I underestimated the power of the words in the pages and the interactions on computer screens.  My kids are technologically more savvy than I and are more socially aware than I had imagined.  I now understand the ways my boys obtain their mental escape to daydreaming mode; their way to unwind from a taxing day of common core and social pressures.

“Reading was associated not only with measures of verbal intelligence (such as vocabulary tests) but with measures of nonverbal intelligence as well (such as reasoning tests). “

Klein, Hannah. “Stronger early reading skills predict higher intelligence later.”  Eurekalert.org.  24 July 2014.  Web. 27 Sept. 2014

I, too, am learning to be empathetic; to read between the lines. I am beginning to detect my sons’ nonverbal (and hormonally verbal)  emotions.  I am taking the focus off of the end-result and adjusting to the daily life journey.  Their choices may not be reasonable; they must make mistakes.    They will find their life paths and relationships.  But they must write the chapters of their books all on their own.

The books, they brought me everywhere; but most importantly right here.  Our package from Japan arrived today; another child beaming.  My chapter is open; typewritten across the screen as I am given a bear hug from behind.

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What I know for sure?  I am grateful.  Thank you.

Family, friendships

Going against the grain

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  It has taken me this long to realize that outlook is EVERYTHING.  This trail that I tread looks drastically different based on the time of day I walk it.  But it’s the same incline.  In the pre-dawn hours it is dark;  I can barely see the path and can only feel the steepness as I climb.  In the early evening it looks long and looming as I gaze at the concrete before me.  It is all in how my eyes perceive the trail.  I find that not knowing; not seeing makes it more manageable.

Like FAITH.

It has only been in recent years that I could look beyond my own four walls to see what goes on outside of them.  I always assumed the grass is greener on the other side.  Similar to the idea of seeing a glass half empty versus half full it is all mental work. The ability to communicate in relationships is what constitutes my life.

Because a lot of days life just sucks.

I text this to my girlfriend who has been hospital-bound for over a week.  Bad things happen to good people every day and it just doesn’t seem fair.  But she says she has been inspired and, surprised, I replied, DO TELL.   Yesterday I was reminded of how life can turn.  Those who appear to have everything really have nothing; a foreclosed house and a broken marriage.  Poor health.  Family crisis.  Those who have have much to lose.  It is those who appreciate the little details of the every day who gain joy in simple things.  A fiery red sunset.  The seventy degree temps.  The ability to walk freely on a trail at 5:40 AM in the brisk morning chill.  Outdoor strides.

But each morning I consciously have to make the choice to wake up.  It is a mental fight as my fuzzy brain registers the early time.  It is the simple choices we choose to make, each day, which can affect a larger outcome.   And so I stumble out, splash the cold water upon my face.  I am practicing mental discipline; going against the grain.  My natural tendency to gorge brings me pause.  When confronted with cookies-a-plenty I became overwhelmed.  I ate them to get rid of them; to not throw anything away.  I did not enjoy the abundance.  It was only when I decided to separate them into smaller containers, stored them or gave them away; that I enjoyed each bite; savoring the flavors.  And I only allowed myself a small portion.

That made all the difference.

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Confronted with abundance, once again, at bookclub  I had to partake.  I now know I physically need to move away from the food to avoid eating excessively.  I weigh my options.  Do I choose the pretzel/Rolo/pecan dessert bite or the pomegranate/Prosecco cocktail?  In the whole scheme of life, these choices seem insignificant.  There are people who don’t have these choices and just want food on the table.  There are those who sit alone wondering their value and contemplating ways to escape their life via drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships.  Others don’t have the choice due to health issues.  They have no other way to escape; to change their flight behavior.

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My gaze landed on the folder paper origami butterflies that swept along the wall.  There are days when I wish, I too, could take flight majestically like the Monarch.  I was surprised to realize, when reading an interview by the author, that the book was about motherhood.

Really?  I thought of the environmental effects of global warming; the religion versus science debates.  But motherhood?

The book’s theme was based on relationships; the multi-faceted layers, the lack of communication that happens.  Our culture reveres mothers; and those women who choose not to become one feel the weight of judgment from other adults as to why they choose not to procreate.  And sure, there are gazillion blogs about parenting, and motherhood.  We constantly try to remind ourselves of the joys but we also understand as a community the isolation, the need for escape.  Isn’t that what we nine women were doing, escaping our normal roles of life for one eve in the month?

I have watched friends’ erratic flight behaviors.  Infidelity.  Substance abuse.  Anorexia.  I observe those who put on airs and walls pretending everything is okay; feelings locked inside Fort Knox.  I stood alongside friends battling illness, particularly the Emperor of All Maladies.  I, too, have caught myself tracing the timeline back; comparing and contrasting.  Last evening we laughed about the long Christmas letters of those who parade all of their accomplishments and travels, the daily posts on Facebook and Twitter and the bloggers (a-hem).   I go against the grain; trying to be transparent.  Everything is not always coming up roses. 

That is exactly where my mindset needs to change.  I can plant seeds.  They may not always grow.  I can fling my arms wide and open doors in hospitality but relationships go both ways.  If the person does not wish to enter there is nothing you can do to change that.  Only in the mental discipline can you push past this, to go against the immediate response of wanting to close doors and build walls.  This goes against my grain; my modus operandi.

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I continue to plant seeds as I practice idioms with my eldest son.  I am learning new ones.  I have the capacity to change my path.  Maybe some roses will grow.  The grass is greenest where you water it.  Time to grab my garden hose.

I’ll drink to that.

Family

the disciple steps out

2014 WordArt

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“When do we reach the top?  The hills never end.”

I heard the plaintive voices of my sons.  As we crested, what appeared to be the last hill; another loomed on the horizon.  The dry air wheezed into my lungs as, slow and steady, we continued to hike on a bright, seventy-four degree New Year’s Day.  We were on a family dog walk, amongst the hills we call home; cheerily wishing passerbys New Year’s tidings.

“That’s life,” I answered in response.   Just when the trail levels and you think you’ve figured things out; another hill appears before you.  In my twenties I ran up hills; trying to outpace my peers in reaching the top.  In my thirties I accumulated things; getting weighed down.  After three pregnancies the marathon running slowed to quick bursts of speed; chasing kids most days and crashing at night. I wondered if I ever got there; to the top.

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Most days I feel like I’m still climbing.

But I’m learning to slow down my pace; to appreciate the scenery.   On our family walking excursions I choose to take the rear; to account for my boys as the hubs takes the lead.  Whether we are traversing the John Muir trail or ascending our community hills we have always assumed our walking  order.  My eyes normally stare into my husband’s back; peering over the boys’ heads.  Now I am only taller than one of these sons and my heart did a tiny flip; realizing the passage of time.  I mentally counted how many more years our family of five will actually walk together.

I smiled, taking the whining in stride.  They eventually quieted as they, too, began to appreciate the view.  The dog and kids enjoyed the thirty minute diversion at the very top as the hubs and I chatted with the elementary teacher and husband; also walking their dogs.  The youngest decided he was a dirt angel; dust rising.  I grinned wider.   Not long ago I’d be worried what a teacher would be thinking.  Appearances aren’t everything.  In fact; they’re quite deceiving.  Let her think what she wants.

In recent years dissatisfaction has resided within; leaving me to wonder, is there more to life than this?  I’m learning to let this go and to go with the flow; to embrace the life paths I walk.  I sat, reconnecting with my girlfriend as we both discovered we shared similar thoughts.  We live parallel lives, two miles apart from one another.   It is only in the good times that we want to socialize.  It is in the bad that we handle our uphill battles; alone.    The times when we need our bonds of friendship; the most.

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When we finally descended we arrived at our half-way destination.  Still waters run deep.  On the surface things look deceptively calm but one never knows what lies deep within our hearts.  We all live parallel lives.  There is the life people are allowed to see; the lives we desperately want.  If only takes hold; tricking us into believing that if we crest one more hill the verdant valley lies ahead.  The grass is always greener on the other side.  It is easy to enter our four walls of self-importance and shut the doors.  Life isn’t how we live it on the outside.  It is what goes on inside that matters the most.

And so I  begin to open my doors again, in hospitality. I am not the only person in the world going through this; much as I’d like to believe.  Self-pity festers in our minds; for days, years.   When we build walls in defense; we are only hurting ourselves in the end.  We are isolated individuals leading parallel lives.

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I considered my resolutions on the eve of 2013’s end.  Before me lay a plethora of food which I found myself reaching for to pass the time.  I wasn’t hungry; nor bored.  I reasoned, it’s New Year’s Eve.  This is the hubs’ family tradition; to make tamales and gorge on the Christmas cookies, amidst the blaring sounds of an action DVD; until the meat-filled husks of lard and corn meal are ready for consumption.  It takes mental discipline to not eat the abundance.  Our ancestral brains are hard wired to feast on the food before us; to store calories until the next meal is caught.  My hand hovered as I waged the mental battle within.  The aunt laughingly observed me; understanding my plight. She acknowledged my hesitation as she walked outdoors; sheepishly flashing her Salem cigarettes; how she beats the battle of the bulge.

It’s easy to distract my focus.  I am trying to be a good disciple; spreading good cheer and a listening, non-judgmental ear.  Staying focused on what’s important; blotting out the white noise.  Watching my words.  Remembering to Whom I am a disciple for.   I am teaching myself to step outside-the-box; my comfort zone.  It is the mental barriers that box me in; rigid rules and preconceived notions.  I am learning to take strides and to stop waiting for something that will push me out the door.   It is all in my mind. I need to push myself.

Disciplinenoun.  training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character ~ Merriam-Webster.com

Hubris is my own worst enemy; excessive pride and self-confidence.  It is when we think we have it all together that we deceive ourselves.  I’ll never have it all together.  But I’ve recently had a few A-ha! moments; the signs always there but my mind not allowed to process them.  I was too busy trying to have the perfect life, be the perfect wife and mother; distracted in the fast pace for fear I’d fall behind. Catching my breath.  Building walls so others can’t see the flawed person within.

But now I can breathe deep; standing with two feet planted.  I throw my arms WIDE enjoying the long view in the present moment.  I have no control of the past and much as I’d like to plot my future it is the NOW that allows me to get there.   Changing one small thing really can make a difference.  I’ve realized my tipping point is in being hospitable; mastering the connector that lies within.  I yearn to become a maven; a connoisseur of life.

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I used to imagine far flung places of travel; exotic foods and aromas amidst languages I didn’t understand.  Art at the Louvre.  A walk along the Great Wall.  Climbing the steps of Giza.   A pilgrimage to Mecca.  It is in the mastery of the every day and finding joy in the simple things; that are my life.  The hot cup of steaming coffee, the the posed smiles of sons in a video arcade before the movies; the stubbly kisses from my mate.   I don’t file away the far flung places I travel; snapshot photos do a great job of this.  This leaves mental space for the little details…the twinge of sadness at the passage of time, the joy of discovery that only experience brings.  The sharing of the daily battles of our every day lives.  But our paths are converging as I refocus my lens.  You can begin to live the life you love with those, you love, right alongside you.

Outdoor strides.  Keep walking.  Be a good disciple.